Making UB notorious: Ruth Bader Ginsburg visits UB

UB School of Law presents Supreme Court Justice with honorary degree

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On the first day of the 2019-20 academic school year, UB handed out another diploma.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Buffalo on Monday to accept an honorary doctoral degree from UB’s School of Law. Her appearance –– hosted by UB’s School of Law, the Bar Association of Erie County, the Western New York Chapter of the Women’s Bar Association and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York –– marks the first time a Supreme Court Justice has received a SUNY honorary degree or has come to UB. 

Over 1,200 UB community members filled the Center for the Arts’ mainstage theatre for the sold-out degree presentation. The justice then spoke to UB law students on campus and, later, the Buffalo law community at Kleinhans Music Hall. Ginsburg’s visit came only three days after she announced completing three weeks of radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer. But she refused to cancel, as her visit was dedicated to the late Wayne Wisbaum, Ginsburg’s friend and Buffalo attorney.

The audience went wild when Ginsburg came on stage at both events and the crowd met the justice with standing ovations and thunderous applause. Ginsburg waved her arms, humbly dismissing the gestures and inaudibly saying “please, please sit.” 

At the CFA, UB President Satish Tripathi welcomed the “profoundly influential” Ginsburg before SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson presented the justice with her degree, thanking her for “her radical feminist goals.”

After posing with her diploma, Ginsburg gave a brief speech and sat with Aviva Abramovsky, dean of UB’s School of Law, to discuss her path to law school, passion for social justice and commonalities with late rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

“If I am notorious it is because I had the good fortune to be alive and [to be] a lawyer in the late 1960s,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg, throughout both events, held audiences captive with her stories of the “not-so-good old days.”

Inspired by Amelia Earhart and Nancy Drew, Ginsburg said her passion for social justice stemmed from first-hand experiences with discrimination. Ginsburg was one of nine women in a class of roughly 500 men at Harvard, she was the first woman to become a tenured professor at Columbia Law School and the second to become a Supreme Court Justice.

Aldiama Anthony, law student and parliamentarian of UB’s Student Bar Association, commended Ginsburg’s efforts to push for equal opportunities for all marginalized groups in the court.

“I personally admire her because I’m an international student,” Anthony said. “The way she advocates for minorities and the focus on [disenfranchised] groups, I personally relate to that.” 

Ginsburg discussed many of the same themes at both events and told stories of her peers and predecessors who “changed the course of history” by pushing against adversity. She said this history of change makes the future feel more promising.

“It is true we have not reached nirvana, but the progress I have seen in my lifetime makes me optimistic for our future,” Ginsburg said.

At Kleinhans, Ginsburg spoke more on law-specific topics, expressed concern with America’s current political system and specifically urged against expanding the size of the Supreme Court. 

Ginsburg is known for her friendships with colleagues who hold vastly different ideologies and expressed her hopes to achieve this political collegiality again in the future.

“I hope one day there will be people who care about our country –– both Democrats and Republicans –– who come together and say ‘enough of this dysfunctional legislature,’” Ginsburg said. “We’re supposed to serve the people of the United States.”

Rina Hernandez, law student and SBA vice president, said she has always admired Ginsburg and is excited to soon join a list of alumni which now includes Ginsburg.

“As a first generation Latina in law school, I just think she’s such an empowering figure,” Hernandez said. “Now we can walk around and tell people ‘I graduated from the law school where she received an honorary degree.’”

In her 26 years as an Associate Justice –– and one of three women on the bench today –– Ginsburg said she is often asked, “when will there be enough?” 

To such inquiries, Ginsburg replies:

“The obvious answer is when there are nine.”

Jacklyn Walters is the managing editor and can be reached at jacklyn.walters@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @JacklynAWalters.

JACKLYN WALTERS


 Jacklyn Walters is a junior communication major. She enjoys bringing up politics at the dinner table and seeing dogs on campus.